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Using Simulations to Boost Learning


Mark Mortimer, Director of Kerobi Performance Management explains how the kind of simulation exercises favoured by athletes can be used in a business setting.

Recent research by Capgemini illustrates that the consulting industry continues to undergo considerable change with clients perceiving a decrease in consulting talent below the senior level.

This, coupled with the industry moving back towards the double-digit growth figures of the late 1990s, suggests an impending war for consultancy talent.

To meet this demand there is an urgent need to identify and develop potential high performing individuals. This also applies across industry.

However, the return on investment case for formal training is not good.

In a recent study, it was found that 83% of the learning is lost within the first month back in the workplace.

These findings suggest that traditional methods are severely limited. In contrast, interactive, experiential techniques have great potential to achieve sustainable and tangible business benefits.

Professor Seymour Epstein at the University of Massachusetts has a ground-breaking theory of intelligence called Cognitive Experiential Self Theory (CEST), which suggests that we have an experiential mind and a rational mind.

Our experiential mind learns directly, thinks quickly, pays attention to the outcome, and forgets slowly.

Our rational mind learns indirectly, thinks deliberately, pays attention to the process, and forgets rapidly.

Epstein's contention is that you need both your minds.

Simulation and interactive role-playing appeal directly to the experiential mind.

When combined with debriefing discussions, they provide a powerfully balanced approach to whole-brain learning.

Simulation is a tried and tested method of performance improvement in other fields.

In sport, simulation seeks to train all parts of your brain and body by helping you to physically perform the skills being trained under a physical environment that recreates all the stresses and distractions of competition.

This helps you to develop the mental skills that stop you 'choking under pressure'.

It enables you to actually feel that you have been in a novel situation before.

Military training uses simulation in exactly the same way to teach soldiers to handle the intense psychological stresses of combat.

This is also useful in the In the business environment.

Following the two mind theory – experiential and rational – first create a learning experience by modelling the target work environment or role; then give constructive feedback and monitor ongoing performance.

Aspects of Simulation
You can recreate a combination of workplace scenarios, into a business simulation session, to make it as realistic as possible.

True learning takes place only when you move outside your normal modus operandi.

Then you will have the following advantages:
* Confidence that you can handle anything thrown at you.
* Well practiced skills to handle the stresses and distractions of performance.
* The feeling "I have been there before I know what to do."

There are normally a number of pivotal executive roles, they represent the ‘engine room’ of the company.

Selecting, developing and retaining these key individuals will have a considerable effect on the bottom line.

Modelling seeks to make your business simulation as similar to the real working environment as possible by actually recreating the stresses under which you will perform.

This can be achieved by creating scenarios that go a step beyond what is normally encountered on a day-to-day basis. Competencies are determined by modelling the behaviours of the best and average performers in the given role.

The idea is to create an environment where optimal, average and weak performance can clearly be observed.

This will allow participants to experience performing outside their comfort zones, which aids the learning process.

A precursor to any change in behaviour and performance is self-awareness i.e. the quality of your output is determined by the quality of your input or feedback.

The point about feedback is that is needs to make the participant aware that certain behaviours are inhibiting performance.

Buy in and ownership is essential before action is taken to rectify the problem. This is achieved through a combination of constructive feedback, personal reflection and self-assessment.

Behavioural Flexibility
The best performing managers are chameleon like in their approach to business problems.

They can adjust their behaviour to suite the context of the situation, rather than falling back on learned or past experience; behaving in an inappropriate way, in an unfamiliar business scenario can have an adverse impact on performance.

These rigid traits are unseen by the executive but can be unearthed and rectified as part of the simulation and development process.

Through training simulations which model real life situations and feedback captured in an action plan, participants should understand areas for development, which are typically in one of twelve management competencies:
* Time Management and Prioritising
* Planning and Scheduling Work
* Identifying and Solving Problems
* Disciplining and Counseling
* Listening and Organising
* Training Coaching and Delegating
* Setting Goals and Standards
* Appraising People and Performance
* Giving Clear Information
* Making Decisions, Weighing Risk
* Getting Unbiased Information
* Thinking Clearly and Analytically

Practicing should be done in ‘safe’ training environment where the participant is encouraged to experiment with new skills and behaviours.

Again, practice means actually doing the activity in an observed environment with non-judgmental feedback.

Understanding what works and what doesn’t and having the self-belief and confidence to take what you have learnt out in to the real world.

This is where the rubber hits the road and personal transformation takes place.

Having dealt with difficult and stressful situation in the practice simulations, dealing with it in real life becomes the norm.


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